Rams make disturbing debut
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan had high hopes for a turnaround this season. Instead, the Rams looked like last year's three-win team, or even worse, with a dismal showing in their 38-3 opening loss at Philadelphia.
"We're going to have to play a whole lot better," Linehan said Monday. "We can't expect to win any game if we play like that."
The Rams were manhandled in all phases of the most lopsided opening loss in the franchise's 71-year history, leaving coaches with a comprehensive list of areas needing improvement for this week's home opener against the Super Bowl champion Giants.
The offense mustered only 166 yards while going 0-for-11 on third-down conversions, and was on the field for only 45 plays. New offensive coordinator Al Saunders noted that should have been closer to a play total for the first half, although he had expected a tough day against the Eagles' pressure defense. On those third downs, they needed to convert an average of 10 yards.
"We're trying to change the culture," said Saunders, part of the Rams' Super Bowl championship staff in 1999. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we knew that coming in."
Punter Donnie Jones was used 10 times and bruised his non-kicking knee making the tackle on one of the returns, although he's expected to play this week.
The defense allowed 522 yards, including five pass completions of 25 or more yards. Two backbreakers: DeSean Jackson's 47-yard catch against struggling cornerback Tye Hill on the second play of the game, and a 90-yard touchdown reception by Hank Baskett with 47 seconds to go in the half that put the Eagles up 21-0.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said players began to sag after the Eagles scored on their opening drive. Hill lost his starting spot midway through the game, playing only in alignments with extra defensive backs.
"I thought we were ready to play," Haslett said. "I was taken by surprise by the whole thing."
The Rams also shot themselves in the foot with six false start penalties. That's been an ongoing issue, which the Rams sought to solve by practicing with more manufactured noise in practice than Linehan could remember in his previous two seasons. As the game turned sour, Saunders said, players started panicking.
"When you self-inflict wounds, and every position took a turn," Linehan noted, "you're in for a long day."
And so it was.
Now, the coach's task will be to keep the situation from snowballing. The Rams lost their first eight games last season, with an epidemic of injuries on the offensive line largely to blame, en route to the second overall pick of the draft. This year's opener was more due to a lack of execution.
Linehan emphasized in a team meeting Monday that it was only one game and that the Eagles' play was "nearly flawless." But he also said he didn't mince words about the awful performance, also blaming himself.
"You have to keep the perspective that it is one game," Linehan said. "But you have to call it like it is. I told them the accountability factor has to be high across the board, we have to all look at ourselves.
"We basically played on the wrong side of the field the whole game."
Next week, they'll be a bit short-handed. Wide receiver Drew Bennett fractured his left foot in the opening series and will be out at least a month, and defensive end Leonard Little and guard Jacob Bell both have hamstring strains.
Without Bennett on the field, Torry Holt faced constant double-teaming and totaled one catch for 9 yards. Entering the season, Holt's 753 catches led all NFL receivers this decade.
"Yeah, I'd double Torry," Linehan said. "He's the one guy on our roster who has any catches."
Linehan and Haslett disagreed with knee-jerk media assessments that the Rams appeared flat and lacked emotion.
"I think we lacked our ability to execute and I think you get enthusiasm through execution," Linehan said. "They are into this season and they know we didn't pass Test 1 of 16."